How do you raise chicken in your backyard for eggs?

Should I buy pullets or straight run chicks? Should I wash the eggs my hens lay? Which is better, natural or artificial incubation?
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Choose the chicken breed

Choose the best chicken breed. Although all chickens can be raised in a backyard, there are a few breeds that are more suitable for backyard chickens for beginners.

The Rhode Island Red is a breed that can reach an average weight of 6.5 Ib. It has dark red feathers and adopts in a small flock very well.

Known to be a breed for laying eggs, this chicken can produce brown eggs. The Wyandotte is another chicken breed that is seen to be dual purpose (for eggs and meat).

With an average weight of 6.5 lb, the Wyandotte can thrive in small flocks and can do well in rugged conditions. They are known to have a good disposition and are available in different colors.

The Ameraucana is available in many colors. It lays green eggs and can produce more for a longer period of time compared to other breeds. This breed is easy to handle and can tolerate all kinds of climates very well.

Another easy-to-raise chicken breed is the Orpington. The hens of this breed can reach up to 8 lb in weight. The greater weight makes it very ideal for eggs and meat. It has many color varieties and ideal for cold places.

Choose chicks or adults

Decide if you want to start with chicks or adult chickens. This is your preference. Some of the key things you need to consider are the cost.

Adult chickens would cost more upon purchase but you can already expect them to lay eggs as soon as you house them in the coop. Chicks you raise together may get along better than adding chickens who are already grown.

Buying chicks is a cheaper option but you also have to factor in making a brooder for them, and feeding them thru adulthood. You need to wait up to 6 months before you can have some eggs from the chicks.

Raising chicks however can be more engaging for the family. It can teach your kids more things about caring for animals and learning about agriculture. Buying chicken for your backyard can cost under $10 to $30 for each depending on the age and the breed you decide to buy.

Choose where they should live

Choose the best place to house your chickens – chicks need to be in a brooder first. The brooder must be kept indoors. The most ideal for the brooder is in the garage. The brooder can be a DIY project and can set you back up to $70 including the needed lighting.

Ideal lighting is a 250 watt lamp that can produce enough heat for the chicks. Brooders help your chicks thrive in their ideal temperature which is usually set at 90 degrees F. This temperature is regulated and will be decreased slowly until the chicks are ready to be moved to the coop outside on their 6th

If you are buying adult hens then you only need to expend for the coop. If you are comfortable working with wood, then you can secure coop plans and do the construction and sourcing of materials yourself. Many prefer to buy one already made.

There are great chicken coops available. buy a ready-made coop. Be mindful of predators in your area. No matter where you live, it’s best to provide coverage on the top as well.

Buying a new chicken coop can be a sizable investment but this should secure your chickens for a long time. Ready-made coops also have better designs and should be a more cost-efficient housing for your chickens.

There are many to choose from online. Consider also your climate. Providing shade for them is how to keep chickens cool. Also be sure to have an area for them to keep warm in the winter and dry in the rain.

If you handy, and you have recyclable materials in your backyard (restoring a Rural Backyard), you can always draft your own coop plans and construct it from scratch. Be sure to have some buffer time just in case you fail to construct a working coop for your chickens.

Choose what the chickens will eat

Decide the kind of food your chickens eat. One of the best ways to feed chickens is just to let them loose and allow them to feed off from your backyard. Free range chickens are given freedom to source food on their own.

This is a good option especially if you have a sizable backyard as this can significantly reduce your food expenses for the chickens. This option when complemented with organic feeds also assures you with an organic chicken which should provide healthier eggs and meat.

If a free range flock is not practical due to predators, terrain or space, chickens are easy to feed. In feeding chicks, starter feeds must be used which are made up of 20% protein. This is used for the first 6 weeks of the chicks.

You may choose the medicated variety which has anto-ciccidiosis drug, an essential thiamine blocker. This may prevent the chicks from getting the disease but will not offer complete immunity.

From the starter feeds, the pullets will move to a grower feed. This should allow the chicken to grow in a right pace until they are ready to lay eggs. This feed is used from the 6th week of the chicks (the time they leave the brooder) to their 14th week.

There are now starter/grower feeds by some feed makers which should make feeding easy. A hen already laying eggs demands another kind of food with a different composition. A layer feed has higher calcium content. This will ensure that egg production is sustained.

Install a feeder

To make sure that the chickens are eating properly, buy and install a feeder for them. This minimizes wastage in the coop. You have to consider the fact that different chicken breeds have different appetites so you need to be sure that you are not feeding them too much or too little.

Chicken appetite is also affected by the seasons. In the hotter months the chicken can consume less food while in the winter months, chicken tend to eat more. Consider these appetite fluctuations to better manage your feeding patterns and volume.

Keep the chicken coop clean

Many people start with raising chickens in a coop lined with newspaper on its floor. Although this is a convenient option, it doesn’t help to absorb the dirt and manure inside the coop.

Also the newspaper when exposed to moisture tends to be too slippery for chickens. This can create health issues for the hens in the long run. Instead, use pine shavings for the bedding at least 4 inches in depth.

Make sure that your chicken coop is always clean. This should prevent diseases to hit your flock. This will also ensure your chickens are always clean, should your children touch them. Sanitation is important as it can affect the overall health and mood of the chickens.

Regularly replace the beddings you use in the coop as this keeps chicken clean. This also controls the smell of the manure of the chicken. Remember to wear a mask when cleaning the coop and its outside spaces to prevent you from inhaling the dust and feathers of the chickens.

It is best to schedule a general cleaning for the coop and its surrounding areas. This includes steps like clearing the coop with all the beddings and using soap, bleach, and water to clean up all the surfaces inside.

Applying anti-mite solution during winter time is also a good practice. This keeps parasites in control in the cold months when the hens are mostly confined inside the coop.

Remember to clean feeder and waterer too as these can be prone to dirt. You have to remember that chickens do not drink as much water when its source is soiled and murky. This can lead to dehydration and can make the chickens sick or die in a very short time.

Manage chicken manure

Managing chicken manure is all about minding the bedding. Consider that it absorbs both the manure substance and the moisture that goes along with it. Chicken manure is essentially made up of up to 85% water.

This can be a huge source of problem when you are dealing with heat, moisture, and also humidity. The solution is just to make sure there are enough pine shavings inside the coop.

The pine bedding must be stirred regularly to make sure the manure is not left on the top of the bedding.

This produces the odor especially in the hot months of summer. New bunch of pine shavings must be introduced to the coop to make sure there are enough absorbent materials in there.

The soiled bedding is a great source of natural fertilizer. If you have a vegetable patch in the backyard this can make your chickens a huge part in your garden’s sustainability.

Nest boxes and eggs

As soon as your backyard chickens start to lay eggs, you need to learn how to best harvest them. The first thing you need to be mindful of is to make sure that the nest box in the coop is always clean.

This minimizes the risk of soiling the eggs too much even before you have the chance to retrieve it. The nest box must also be cushioned so that egg damage is minimized.

The more hens you have inside the coop, the more nest boxes you need to have in there to prevent egg overcrowding. Too many hens sharing on the same box can force other hens to lay eggs outside the coop.[Eggs from Backyard Chickens for Beginners]
Eggs from Backyard Chickens for BeginnersYou have to check for eggs early in the coop. Do this regularly throughout the day to reduce the risk of the eggs being soiled by the chickens. Refrigerate the eggs as soon as possible if you have no plans to cook that day.
More than these tips:

There is a wide a variety of chicken breeds, developed for egg production, meat production, and/or good looks. While many breeds are adaptable to a backyard setting, certain breeds are better than others for backyard conditions. Medium to large breeds are good for cold winters. A mellow temperament and good egg laying are also pluses. If you see reference to a bantam bird, that is a small version of any particular breed. It will look the same, but be smaller. Here are a few examples of great, mellow breeds for the backyard.
2. Your birds need roosts

Chickens don’t sleep on the ground. They like to roost on bars. Therefore your coop will need to have roosting bars.

Now, these don’t have to be anything fancy. You can hang branches in your coop horizontally so the birds have a place to perch and wrap their feet around. You can also use other types of rounded wood.

But you do want to make sure that the roosts are rounded so it is easier for the chickens to wrap their feet around them.

Also, make sure that each bird has about 8 inches of perch space per bird. Also ma, e sure that they are not anywhere near the feeders or waterers.

Plus, be sure that you do not stack the roosts vertically above each other. No bird should be above another bird, because a sleeping chicken is a pooping chicken.

3. The girls need a place to lay

You’ll need to be sure to include nesting boxes in your coop. This is where your hens will go each morning to lay their eggs.

However, you’ll probably need multiple boxes. It is best to only plan on having 3 birds per box, but I’ll let you in a little secret. Your birds are all going to have a favorite box, and then fight over it. Just be prepared.

But give them adequate boxes anyway. You never know, you may get the first ‘normal’ group of hens yet.

So far, choosing a favorite box to lay in has been the trend of our coops.

4. It must be secure

Security is the number one focus of your coop. Your hens are animals that lots of other animals like to prey on.

So be sure that you have no holes in your coop, that you use lots of chicken wire, and choose latches that no toddler could figure out. If a toddler can’t open your coop, then a raccoon can’t either.

But you’ll also want to consider things like flooring in your coop. In our first coop, we had a wood floor. We also had to embed chicken wire into the ground, so that if an animal tried to dig in, it would dig into the chicken wire and would stop digging.

Now, we have an actual floor in our coop so we no longer have to worry about that. These are all decisions you’ll have to make when deciding to build your coop. Just make sure that you leave no room for predators.


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Popular backyard chicken breeds

Rhode Island Red

Hens weigh about 6.5 lb
Lay brown eggs
Dark red feathers
Dual purpose breed, but most often used for laying
Hardy breed that does well in small flocks


Hens weight about 6.5 lb
Lay brown eggs
Dual purpose breed
Great for small flocks and rugged conditions
“Curvy” shape, good disposition
Many color varieties


Many different color varieties
Lay green eggs
Great long-term egg production
Dual purpose breed
Tolerant to all climates
Easy to handle


Hens weigh about 8 lb
A larger dual purpose breed
Lay brown eggs
Many color varieties
Heavy size is ideal for cold weather


Chickens are omnivores. They eat grains, fruits, and vegetables as well as insects. Chickens should typically be fed a prepared feed that is balanced for vitamins, minerals, and protein. A healthy laying hen diet should also contain crushed oyster shell for egg production, and grit for digestion. A 6-pound hen will eat roughly 3 pounds of feed each week.

They love fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen and garden, as well as bread. Scratch-cracked corn and oats are a nice treat for the chickens that does not supply all their nutritional needs, but is fine in moderation.

Feed consumption may increase in the winter when burning more calories, and decrease in the heat of the summer. A critical part of a chicken's diet is continual access to clean, fresh water. This is especially true in the summer as they cool themselves by panting.

A quality coop is essential to backyard chicken production. Layers need nest boxes — one per 4-5 birds. Chickens are descended from jungle birds, which means they like to be up high, so a place for them to roost is important. Coops must provide protection from the weather and predators. There should be a well-insulated area with a light bulb or heat lamp for the winter months as well as ventilation for fresh air. Be sure to have a minimum 3-5 square feet per bird, including outdoor space.
Their main predators are raccoons, rats, owls, hawks, and cats. An enclosed space for them to stay at night is essential to their protection. Ensure that the coop is free of small holes for predators to sneak in. There is an endless variety of coop designs with just as much range in cost. Find a design that provides easy access and otherwise suits your situation. There are many books and websites with coop designs. The image at right shows a simple chicken coop schematic. The space should be free of unnecessary objects like woodpiles or equipment, as they attract predators.
Bird health

Healthy birds will be active and alert with bright eyes. They will be moving around — pecking, scratching, and dusting — except on hot days when they will find shade. Chickens that are healthy and active will also talk and sing quietly throughout the day.

As far as laying and eating habits, each chicken is different, so monitor each chicken to get a feel for her normal production and consumption. Healthy droppings will be firm and grayish brown, with white urine salts. Roughly every tenth dropping is somewhat foamy, smellier than usual, and light brown.

Chickens raised in backyard settings generally stay healthy and are not easily susceptible to diseases. The easiest way to find disease in chickens is to know what a healthy bird looks like. When a chicken isn't acting normal, for instance if she doesn't run to the food as usual or she wheezes or sneezes, start investigating. 

An important element to bird health is sanitation. In order to maintain a clean, healthy environment, the coop and outdoor area should be cleaned out weekly or as needed to control manure and odor build up. Feeders and waterers should be regularly cleaned and disinfected. Dust baths should be available, as they help control mites. It is important that at least once a year, usually in the spring, a thorough cleaning is done on the coop and yard. Also cleaning before introducing new birds to the area will limit the spread of disease. A fall cleaning is also helpful with mite control over winter.

During this cleaning, safety precautions must be taken in dealing with dust. Wear a dust mask and mist the walls surrounding the area to control dust movement. Inhalation of dried chicken manure can be harmful to humans. Rake and clean out the yard. All feeders should be removed and bedding completely cleared out. It is important to remove dust and cobwebs from corners of the coop. The inside of the coop needs to be disinfected — including troughs, perches and nests. To disinfect, use one-tablespoon chlorine bleach to one gallon boiling water.

Manure management

Chicken manure is made up of feed residue, intestinal bacteria, digestive juices, mineral by-products from metabolic processes, and water. In fact, 85% of chicken droppings, by weight, is water. This leads to issues with humidity and odor. So what are the options for managing manure?

One option is to complete thorough cleanings of the coop more than once a year. This will control the odor and fly populations.

Another option is to pasture the chickens. Moveable shelters are a valuable tool for pasturing chickens and reducing cleaning time. Simply move the location of the house when manure begins to build up. It offers new space for chickens to graze and peck, and free fertilizer for the lawn!

A third option is composting. Composting can be done right in the chickens' bedding. To start this process, lay down about 4 inches of bedding. Regularly stir up the bedding to prevent clumping, and add fresh bedding until it is 10 inches deep by winter.

Continue this process until the bedding gets 12 to 15 inches deep. At this depth, composting actively begins and after 6 months can kill harmful bacteria. This composting releases heat, which keeps chickens warm in cooler months and attracts natural fly predators. To maintain the compost, it must be stirred regularly to prevent crusting. The same process can be done outside of the coop in a separate bin.

Egg production

Hens begin laying at around six months of age and can continue for 5-10 years, with peak production occurring in the first 2 years. They will lay roughly 6 eggs each week. Egg production drops each year when the hens molt (replace their feathers in the early fall) and as daylight hours are lost. Hens need at least 12- 14 hours of light each day to continue laying eggs. A regular light bulb is sufficient to supply this light.


There are several regulations that you may encounter with chicken ownership. Raising chickens in the backyard may require a permit from your city, and each has different requirements and restrictions. It is not legal in some cities to keep poultry. Some cities may also limit the number of animals you can keep.

If you begin selling eggs or meat, you will encounter additional regulations. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture Dairy and Food Inspection Division manages and enforces these. Contact them for information regarding these rules at 651-201-6027.

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